How To Love A Sociopath And Why It Is So Important To Do So
Congratulations! You have opened something that is not about the American presidential campaign!
Some of us may have an extra drink occasionally or smoke more than a sensible amount of weed now and then. Others may fudge a number here or there on our taxes. We’ve all literally and figuratively farted in public at least once in our lives—but few humans are as universally toxic as upper level politicians. By now we know that both candidates are a perverse distortion of democracy. Neither they nor any other bad actor on the political stage will be mentioned again here.
This article is about us real people.
Several folks have asked me the same very interesting question. It is possible that someone has asked you this same question, too! Here’s a short paragraph of backstory.
I have some friends (Democrat and Republican) that are politically conservative. Well, they like to think of themselves as Conservatives. As is true for most Americans I know who describe themselves as serious Conservatives regardless of party affiliation, these friends could more accurately be called Regressives. In mind-bending contrast to the personal kindness and generosity they often show to friends and family, these folks seem to turn a blind eye to the cruelty and consequences of our national actions. They don’t really want to conserve anything so much as they want to regress into ways of life that have, at least in part, been rightfully done away with already. These folks hate (i.e. are scared of) certain religions and races en masse. They love everyone in a uniform regardless of the actions performed by the people wearing those uniforms. They defend police brutality and military aggression as long as these actions are disguised as quasi-holy freedom-and-security crusades. These are the people who believe they don’t need to go through all the uncomfortable work of checking their attitudes or the facts because Fox News has already done that for them. My few conservative/regressive friends also, and in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, seem to have strong ties to the Middle Ages regarding an inherited, habitual belief in a God who is always on their side during any conflict. They have never heard Ann LaMott’s quote “If your God hates the same people you do, you have created God in your image.” (Italics are mine.)
Here is the question that my more progressive friends ask me. “Whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, American, Saudi Arabian, Chinese, or otherwise—how can you hang out with sociopathic psychopatriots? What common ground could you possibly have with these people? Their attitudes aren’t much different than the attitudes of witch burners a few centuries ago.”
I have a few answers. Here they are.
The common ground I have with my conservative friends is the same common ground I have with you. We are all human beings. As humans, we are each equally desirous and deserving of happiness. We all want to be and have a right to be free from unnecessary suffering. This unified mind, this unanimous human direction of desiring happiness and bare minimal suffering is where each of us lives. Our realization of and respect for this common ground we share with all living things is humanity’s one and only possibility for attaining global sanity. That is why the Gandhis, Bernies, and Dalai Lamas keep trying to remind us of it. We all forget this basic fact too often. Honoring this common ground means making a serious effort to be as kind to every other person as one is to one’s self. The system also requires that one treat one’s self as a best friend. “Every other person” includes, of course, people of all political inclinations (as well as all races, nationalities, sexes, etcetera).
The few so-called conservative folks I know are so sweet and kind to the individual humans and animals they personally know, that I can love them for that alone. If that type of compassion spread itself around a little more, this would be a much better world. These regressive friends provide many learning experiences and a constant source of amazement for me, but they also show me how similar we all are. The contrast between the callous disregard they have for so many people who are just as human as the few people they regard so deeply is a schism that happens to some degree in each of us. An exaggerated ego attachment and sense of possession regarding things and people we consider “our own” is too often the defining characteristic of what many people call love. It is often mistaken for being love itself! Noticing this reminds me of how much work needs to be done within each of us, as well as the work that needs to be done in national and global arenas. “The only devils in this world live in our hearts, and it is there that all our battles should be fought.” Gandhi
My view of the “we’re all in this together” thing has to take on more depth and an increased, if ironical, sense of conviction after talking for a while with a regressive person. I am forced to realize that many otherwise wonderful or potentially wonderful people were badly programmed, brainwashed, and damaged—shaped since birth by a lot of inherited bullshit. This bullshit ranges from being as relatively harmless as the Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy myths all the way to the fatal notions that a God living in the sky wants us to kill people or that Nature is here to be dominated by humans. Each specific piece of this bullshit has been consistently reinforced throughout many generations, as well as during each individual’s lifetime, by the nearly constant and highly hypnotic volume of general misinformation fed to us by our culture.
People who once seemed “inherently evil” to me now seem to have the injured glow of abused children about them. You don’t throw sick children away. You help them to get as well as they can, as well as they will allow themselves to be. A lot of these regressive folks have never been hungry, homeless, brutalized, or had a bomb dropped on them for no reason. They have no first-hand concept of what those things feel like. But it goes deeper than that. Not only have they no base-station cognizance, much less experience, for the broader type of compassion to emanate from—they don’t want one. I can’t really blame them! No one wants to feel bad. Many people choose to remain willfully ignorant of the suffering of others—even if it means swallowing some bullshit explanation of that suffering in order to whitewash sympathetic pain and guilt from their minds. Many folks would rather see the wool that has been pulled over their eyes than see the less pleasant truth that would appear without it.
Denial of the painful moral inconveniences that are part of human reality has, to a sad and destructive extent, become the prime directive for many of us. To deny existence of our dilemmas may be convenient in the short run, but it kills any chance of finding solutions for those problems in the long run. It is much more comfortable to wear an inexpensive shirt if you block out or stay ignorant of the fact that it was produced by slave labor. It is easier to enjoy your gasoline-abundant road trips if you convince your self (or allow media-made popular consensus to convince you) that dropping bombs on innocent civilians in oil pimping countries is an effort to liberate victims of dictatorship. That blurry amendment to reality is a lot more palatable than facing the fact that many needless murders of innocent civilians help bring your gasoline to you. These types of moral malfunctions might be resolved with a little thought, effort, and compassionate tactical adjustment—but if they are not given appropriate attention, they can grow into cultural cancers that painfully eat a society and crap it into history’s sewer system.
There is also a deluded but very understandable logic to the regressive person’s tendency to deny problems and instead blame the victim. It is, for example, much easier to scapegoat poor people than it is to face the massive and amorphous job of solving poverty. The logic-of-convenience that allows scapegoating has no truth to it. But, much like everything else we choose to delude ourselves with, it makes perfect sense once you’ve bought the lie.
Nonetheless, and in spite of their tendency to replace objective reality with subjective beliefs, there is a human being and possibly a fine one under the seemingly sociopathic veneer of many a Conservative/Regressive. How can a person who thinks in terms of us/them be helped to see The Big We? Can we communicate the realization that both Yankee and Red Sox fans, strangers, friends, and enemies all equally deserve to enjoy happiness and a release from unnecessary suffering? What can we say that will make a person understand that happiness is doubly important because almost no one kills while they are smiling? How do we get folks to drop a little blind believing in exchange for some open-eyed thinking? How can we help our fellow humans to progress past fear, inherited ignorance, and cultural hypnosis? Maybe we can’t. But if we can, kindness and honesty presented in a respectful and non-combative form are the answers. Hatred and fear cannot survive long-term doses of truth and love.
These doses may be most potent during the immediate moment when we are actually being honest and loving with each other, but the more profound and lasting effect of all this truth and kindness requires time to solidify in the hearts and minds of our regressive friends—and it requires patience and consistency on our parts. No one ever actually changes anyone else’s mind for them. Every person is their own therapist, makes their own decisions, and has the last word about the directions their mind and life will take. But we can certainly open new avenues of thought and point to potential doorways for each other.
The presentation of these new ideas and doorways will rarely rate any attention from a listener unless that presentation is done without condescension or defensiveness.
On the other and much less productive side of this coin, any loss of patience or lack of respect for those we are talking with, any angry/frustrated arguing and screaming, only feeds the fire. Ignorance thrives on battlegrounds. Evidence against regressive thought needs to be presented strongly, confidently, and politely with a genuine concern for the person you are speaking with—without any anger, condescension, or scorn toward them. This kinder approach can eventually dissolve any ignorance.
Other valuable tools are also available. There is plenty of evidence we can site from popular sources that will impress our deluded brethren. It would be easy to show them where many respected public figures that they put stock in, from Jesus and Mohammed to Magic Johnson and Kris Kristofferson, have spoken out against bigotry, war, corruption, and the like. The right historical quote can relate strongly to present-day situations and might make a big impact on folks who are clinging to no-longer-relevant or downright delusional attitudes. Humor helps too. “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make it funny or they’ll kill you” Oscar Wilde.
Any quote that helps to make sanity’s point and keeps the people we are speaking with comfortably engaged is a quote worth using. “Regardless of the source, any phrase of proven truth that serves a noble purpose should speak its truth and serve its purpose.” OK, I just made that shit up—but in our age of search engines you can find a quote to fit any occasion, if you aren’t too stoned to go look for it.
Gently presenting alternative information to a partially clouded, somewhat fossilized mind may take months, years, or even generations. It can seem just as frustrating as the proverbial process of shoveling shit against the tide—but there is no better choice of action. Trying to explain the intricacies of global warming or the kharmic disadvantages of killing civilians to someone holding onto their materialized literal beliefs can leave us feeling like we might as well try to kick water uphill. Concretized misinterpretations of things that were written long ago as symbolic references can provide a severe test of any one’s patience. It can be mind-warping to attempt to speak sensibly with folks who have a firm belief in a white-skinned God that: is always on their side, loves America more than any other country, created Earth in six 24-hour days, asked penguins to toodle halfway up the globe in order to catch Noah’s boat ride, and through an adulterous affair with a virgin had a boy child named Jesus who liked to ride around on dinosaurs. But speaking sensibly to the folks who are making the least sense desperately needs to be done—and it needs to be done with a smile! It is very important to remember that every revolution is really an evolution. Anything that seems to occur spontaneously has actually been on a very long trail of grind-it-out activity leading up to that event.
I’m driven to drink (admittedly a short trip) while trying to explain things as basic as the fact that killing people for profit is wrong. The world is very painfully facing the obvious truth of that right now, yet there are still so many folks who believe that killing people solves more problems than killing the greed in people.
Changes (outside of self) don’t happen as or when we want them to. You can’t take a cake out of the oven before it is done. Logical realities will only ripen and surface in the regressive mind when they are ready to do so—the same as they do in your mind or mine. That is when the change happens and things can improve. But unless we keep our brains, hearts, compassion, patience, convictions, honesty, internal strength, loving kindness, respect, determination, and structural integrity to the grindstone on a very regular basis, improvements will never follow. The pissed-off dismay took a long time growing strong enough to spread through the American and French psyches in the 1700s before the colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbor or Marie Antoinette had her date with the guillotine. That type of violence is no longer an option—but boldly stating the case for universal decency, as Jefferson and Rousseau did for decades before their revolutions ripened, will never go out of style. Neither will Gandhi’s ideas about non-cooperation with evil.
We are now in a time and situation where triggering off gunshots or oiling up guillotines won’t work. The “fight fire with fire” mentality is actually what we need to eliminate. Its previous results are what we are trying to repair. Fighting fire with fire doesn’t work. It has never worked. It produces bigger fires sparked by more advanced arsonists. Ask any Fireman. You fight fire with water, or smother it by using sand or chemicals. The flame loses its source of oxygen and suffocates out of existence. Sanity and honesty presented with patience and kindness can suck the oxygen out of fear and ignorance, and then repair damage from traumatic experience and misinformation.
I have heard folks defend police who shot a man although both of his weaponless arms were already pinned to the ground. I have heard people defend the needless murder of innocent foreign civilians and the death of our own misled American soldiers. I have heard folks say so very many things to rationalize their own fears, selfishness, and human frailty—that people with a different imaginary friend than they have are damned to hell, that Native Americans/Blackfolks/Tibetans/Jews/Indians/etc. are uncivilized and savage people who needed to be abused for their own good, that hungry and homeless people all deserve their plight, that obscenely irresponsible and blatantly greedy industrialization haven’t brutally damaged our environment, that foods containing more petroleum and toxins than nutrition are good for you, and so much more. It is easy for me to think, as the bumper stickers say, “If Jesus was here, he’d slap the shit out of you” and “Your god must have had a sharp stick up his almighty ass when he created you.” It is very easy to get angry at all the injustice and ignorance that allows so much painful and unnecessary suffering to continue. If I’m sick or have a bad day, the thought can briefly run across my mind that, “If someone would just bury this idiot in the hills, at least there would be one less idiot.” But I very quickly remember that: 1—becoming an asshole myself won’t help.2—truth, intelligence, patience, and real compassion are the only things that will help. 3—right now, the only things that matter are the things that will help.
Using kinder, more helpful, nobler qualities is our only chance to reach the folks who (although they may be quite wonderful to the individuals they know personally) are political and religious sociopaths due to inherited ignorance, hypnotic fears, and the ever-continuing programmed reinforcement of this ignorance and these fears by our culture.
Using kinder, nobler, and more helpful qualities is also my one and only chance of keeping myself in tow! The kindness I need to muster in order to be a decent human, to speak with folks that I strongly disagree with in a calm and respectful way, reminds me that life is about cooperation. It is a joint venture that must attempt to benefit all and hurt none. Ideas like these are valuable tools that keep me from getting frustrated to the point where I may start doing more harm than good. They protect me from becoming an angry jackass and lashing out at others—or myself. I hope I remember to use these tools more often. I hope you do too.
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